Tom Kemp lifting

Muscle Growth 101

Written by

Sean Aspinall

10 Min

Building muscle is the holy grail for most people, whether you are an avid bodybuilder, professional athlete or someone looking to simply look and feel better. However, unfortunately this isn’t as simple as just hitting the weights and expecting you to build muscle and lean up. For many people who have hit a plateau in their progress, it’s worth considering whether your nutrition is actually set up for you to get the most from your training, with specific focus to your calorie and protein intake.

So wherever you are in your fitness or training journey, here are the key things you need to consider to maximise the amount of muscle you can build alongside your training:

The role of calories in building muscle mass

When we consider building muscle, calories should be considered number one. For most people, research1 consistently shows that a caloric surplus is likely needed to maximise your body’s ability to build lean mass.

To understand this, we must first work out our maintenance calories are. Maintenance calories are the amount you need just to sustain your weight, once we know this then we can build from here.

Calculate maintenance here: https://www.omnicalculator.com/health/bmr-harris-benedict-equation

How much more do I need without gaining body fat?

People hear surplus and immediately worry that they are going to gain a ton of body fat. That would be the case if we just stay in the fast-food lane, but if we plan our surplus correctly, then there might me a sweet sport for ‘lean bulking’:

A recent study2 compared the effect of a 5% or 15% energy surplus on muscle mass gains and found that a higher energy surplus resulted in more fat gain without an appreciable effect on muscle growth or strength gains.  To put it simply, the higher the calories, the more likely you are to gain more fat than muscle.

However, the exact surplus you need to build muscle is very much dependant on how much muscle you have to build. If you are brand new to the gym, the greater surplus you can use, without as much fat gain, however if you are more experienced, then a smaller surplus is likely to be best2.

But for most, if not all people who are doing some form of resistance exercise, it’s quite conclusive that looking to gain muscle mass at maintenance isn’t all that effective…

“…these relatively unremarkable gains [at maintenance calories] indicates the importance of a purposeful caloric surplus combined with a progressive resistance training programme when maximising muscle growth is the goal1

Our advice would be start with a 5-10% increase in your calories and watch the scale over a 14-day period – an appreciable rate of gain in weight is between 0.25-0.5% per week, so if you are within this, great, keep calories the same. If not, then don’t be afraid to slowly increase them over time. The PhD Advanced Mass is a great way to help get the calories in.

If calories are king, then protein is the queen

Protein is essential for your body to create muscle. Consuming adequate protein provides the body with the necessary amino acids which function as the ‘building blocks’ of your muscle and help reduce the likelihood of muscle breakdown. Without this, then the body is unable to ‘turn on’ the muscle building process known as muscle protein synthesis, thus making lean muscle gain hard [if not near impossible], as well as drastically increasing muscle breakdown over time.

Currently the world health organisation’s protein recommendations for adults are around 0.8-1 gram of protein, per kilogram bodyweight (g/kg)3, however, whilst sufficient enough to sustain health, this will not be the case for anyone looking to build muscle mass.

How much protein do we need to gain muscle mass

Recent research of 49 studies4 shows that the ‘optimal’ amount of protein an individual needs to build muscle mass is ~1.6g/kg with anymore being deemed as possibly ‘overkill’. Indeed, researchers5 explored the idea of pushing protein closer to 3g/kg and concluded that intakes of above 2.0g/kg could be considered ‘superfluous’

However, there are a couple of caveats to consider here:

  1. If you are dieting, then pushing this protein higher [2-2.4 g/kg] seems to have a protective effect on muscle mass, when the risk of muscle loss is likely to be at its highest6
  2. You might want to consider taking protein a little higher in that dieting phase as protein works really well in managing hunger7

Where is best to get protein from?

A food first approach is always considered best practice. Meaning that getting your protein sources from whole food, animal or vegan sources will always be our preferred advice and will also likely increase diet quality and overall energy levels for most people. However, where needed, supplementing protein into your diet can be an excellent way to ensure that you are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to maximising your gains.

One question we get is: Aren’t protein shakes poor sources of protein?

When in fact, Whey Protein, as found in the PhD Diet Whey, is considered the most bioavailable source of protein you can consume, meaning absorption is super quick and it’s all put to good use!

Is there anything else I can do to maximise my gains?

Timing: Whilst overall protein intake is always going to be number one, splitting your protein into even doses throughout the day may help us ‘turn on’ the muscle building process more consistently. Researchers have found that consuming at least 0.4g/kg over a more frequent meal pattern can help increase the likelihood of you gaining meal muscle8.

So, for someone who is 70kg with a protein target of 115g protein per day, this would work out at 4 meals across the day of which had around 28-30g protein in each meal

Training: Whilst the famous ‘anabolic window’ has been proven to not necessarily be a thing, for anyone who is looking to gain muscle, it should be common practice that you are having a PRE and POST training meal, in order to fuel and then recover from that session. As such, consuming a high-quality protein supplement such as PhD Diet Whey, dosed at ~0.4g/kg both PRE and POST training, is a pretty fail-safe method that fits in with all the current research guidelines9.

  • Tip: If you are dieting and don’t have the calories available to consume protein pre and post exercise then don’t worry. Consuming pre- or intra-training EAA/BCAA, like PhD Intra BCAA, can elevate the blood amino acid level enough to help minimise any protein breakdown during your workout10, so you can then get in your post training shake to maximally recover.

Summary

Whether your goal is aesthetics, health or sport based, building muscle should be at the top of your priority list each and every time and following these key steps will ensure you don’t miss a trick with maximising your potential:

  1. Work out your maintenance calories.
  2. Implement a 5-10% energy surplus every-day to put the body in a position to build muscle.
  3. Consume around 1.6g/kg protein every-day to give the body the building blocks it needs to build muscle.
  4. Split your protein into even doses across 4-6 meals, ideally with a PRE and POST training protein source.
  5. Focus your diet around whole foods, animal or vegan protein sources, but where needed, supplement with PhD’s Diet Whey, 100% Whey or Diet Plant to ensure you are nailing that protein intake everyday.

Follow all these steps and you are covering all bases needed to get the most out your training each and every time!

Dr Sean Aspinall (PhD, MSc, SENr)

Elite Sports Nutritionist | Origin Project

References:

1: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/abstract/2020/10000/magnitude_and_composition_of_the_energy_surplus.9.aspx

2: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-3184470/v1

3: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18330140/

4: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28698222/

5: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0

6: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26817506/

7: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0268005X1630340X

8: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514209/

9: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/#B63

10: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16896166/

Written by
Sean Aspinall
Sean Aspinall
Focusing on all aspects of health and fitness, we are here to help you on your journey.

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